"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

When Being Dense is Good

Have you ever stopped to really consider that the modern convenience of refrigeration is REALLY modern.  I mean, it has only existed since the early 1950s? Somebody figured out that the Second Law of Thermodynamics meant that it was possible to figure out a way to use chemistry and modern machinery to make heat flow  in such a way to cool things down, even in a tropical environment.  Amazing.

But modern, or should I say "post modern" man has become so irresponsible and lazy that he just takes this modern convenience for granted.

I'm pretty sure that anybody reading this has experienced a power failure and has had the experience of losing food and having to clean up the mess of thawed out freezers and refrigerators. Imagine the cleanup in New Orleans after Katrina.  Sorry for that mental image, but I've got a point to make.

What if refrigeration wasn't just temporarily gone for a few days? What if you were pretty sure that it was gone for the indefinite future?

Canned tomatoes and pickles
That's what we are planning on.  We still freeze stuff.  But we "can" a lot of stuff.  I put the word can in quotes because I have no idea how many people might come to this site and not understand this archaic term.  It's funny because the home, or do-it-yourself process doesn't involve cans, but rather jars.

Anything you see or buy in the grocery store that comes in a can, you can "can" yourself. (Why do I suddenly have this image of kicking legs and ruffle skirts?)  We haven't done it yet, but one of the next things we will can is chicken.

Left hand
Two things I need to type out at this point:  I just came back from a seminar about butchering animals.  I hurt myself pretty badly yesterday around noon. I was cutting up my spent tomato vines and other plants and in a rush I snipped my pinkie.  Okay, I really snipped my pinkie.  OKAY.  It's darned lucky I didn't hit the bone.  Picture to follow.  Shut up.  You know you want to see it.  It's a good thing there was a nurse in the house. She had me bandaged up and back to work in about 15 minutes.

So I'm sitting here trying to type and I've got duct tape on my left pinkie and it is seriously slowing me down.  Normally I can just type my thoughts, but this is like having a stroke or something.  It's taking forever to get the words out.  Now I know how stroke victims feel.

UPDATE:  Now I'm back to typing okay, but before I go back to doing any more gardening, I will have to bundle up the finger again.  So, where were we? Ah, the canning thing. I have to admit right here that Twyla is the one doing the canning.  I might help out with some of the prep work, like peeling and slicing, but she's the one who pays attention to the recipes and the time in the hot water bath. I chose to write about canning today because I went to a seminar last night at the church on butchering domestic and game animals, and the subject came up in passing when the risks of contamination were talked about.

Life is full of risks, but they are manageable when one uses caution and that rare thing called "common sense."  Sure, there is a possibility that you could get botulism poisoning from canned goods, even from store bought, factory produced food, but there are warning signs.  It wasn't that long ago that I opened a national brand can of tomato sauce and it turned out to be under pressure.  "DANGER!" I threw that can away.  Just use your head.

sliced for drying on silicone silpat
Canning is one of the safest and easiest ways to preserve your own food for long term storage.  With rare exceptions, most bad bacteria and other microbes that can harm you will easily die when exposed to temperatures of 140° - 160° F. Canning involves immersing the food and container in boiling water for anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes.  As the jars and lids cool down and you hear that distinctive pop as the vacuum sucks the lid down tight, you know you've got a good, airtight seal.

Apples, Tomatoes dehydrated
Another method of preserving food that takes up a lot less space is dehydration. For example; tomatoes are about 90% water, and it's the existence of that water that provides a medium for the microbes to rapidly decompose the fruit. Remove almost all that water and the remaining acid and other protective components will make the food last longer.  Vacuum pack the product and it will last for years.

Volume wise, this method is great because of how much food can be packed in such a small area. The jar of tomatoes you see on the right is approximately a dozen, and they are not even tightly packed.  I could add almost a dozen more and re-vacuum pack the jar.  There are more than a dozen apples in the other jar.  All the nutrition is there with no added chemicals or artificial preservatives.  These were done just using the gentle heat of the pilot light in the oven, since we have propane for the stove and oven and central heat.  And while the tomato is not really "sun-dried" I dare anyone to tell me they can taste the difference.

dehydrated tomatoes
Since we only have a couple of silicone silpats, another way to lay out fruits and veggies for drying without sticking, is to crumple a sheet of aluminum foil and then flatten it out, then swab it with a vegetable oil.  You don't want to cut the tomatoes too thin. You will be amazed how a slice of tomato nearly a quarter inch thick will shrink down to a paper thin piece.  My next project is to create a dehydrating box out of some relatively cheap materials.  I plan on taking step-by-step photographs of the process, in case anyone would like to duplicate it.

Another thing you should know is that there are lots of things that don't really even need refrigeration.  Chances are that everybody reading this has mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup in their fridge.  None of those things need to be in there.  Seriously. Did you know that even eggs can go two to three weeks in just moderately cool temperatures.

Stay tuned.

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